The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan Class 9 Summary
Bismillah Khan was a renowned musician who made significant contributions to the world of music through his expertise in playing the shehnai, a traditional Indian instrument. He hailed from a family of musicians and was known for his ability to improvise new ragas with the shehnai, elevating it to the level of other classical musical instruments. Khan received numerous accolades for his talent, including India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 2001.
The shehnai has a rich history in Indian culture. It originated when the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb banned the playing of the pungi in his royal court due to his dislike of the instrument’s sound. In an effort to improve the pungi’s tone, a barber developed a hollow stem with seven holes and blew into it, producing soft, melodious music. This instrument was named the shehnai, a combination of the words “nai,” meaning barber, and “shah,” meaning king, as it was developed by a barber and played in the royal court. The shehnai eventually became a staple at auspicious occasions and was included in the group of nine instruments traditionally played at the royal court.
Bismillah Khan was born in 1916 in Dumraon, Bihar, into a family of musicians. His grandfather Rasool Bux Khan played the shehnai at the court of the king of Bhojpur, and his father and uncles were also shehnai players. As a child, Bismillah Khan sang the Bhojpuri Chaita at the Bihariji temple, earning a reward of a 1.25kg laddu from the king. At the age of three, he visited his uncle in Benaras, where he saw his uncle playing the shehnai and was fascinated by it. Bismillah Khan began learning to play the instrument at the age of five, practicing for hours at the temple of Balaji and Mangala Maiya by the banks of the Ganga river. The flowing waters of the river inspired Bismillah Khan to improvise and create new ragas that were considered beyond the range of the shehnai.
At the age of 14, Bismillah Khan performed at the Allahabad Music Conference and received acclaim from Ustaad Faiyaz Khan. In 1938, he began performing on the All India Radio station in Lucknow. On the day of India’s independence, 15 August 1947, Bismillah Khan performed from the Red Fort and greeted the country through his shehnai, playing the raag kafi before Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous “Tryst with Destiny” speech.
Bismillah Khan traveled widely to perform, including in Afghanistan, where the king was so impressed that he presented Bismillah Khan with many souvenirs. Bismillah Khan also composed music for two films: the Hindi film “Goonj Uthi Shehnai,” directed by Vijay Bhatt, and the Kannada film “Sanadhi Apanna” by Vikram Srinivas.
He was the first Indian to perform at the Lincoln Centre Hall in the United States and also performed in Montreal, Cannes, Tokyo, and Teheran, where an auditorium was named in his honor.
Bismillah Khan believed that music was India’s richest heritage and should be taught to children. Despite his travels, he remained attached to Dumraon and Benaras. When a student asked him to set up a shehnai school in the United States and promised to recreate the temples of Benaras there, Bismillah Khan asked if the student would also bring the Ganga river, as he was attached to it as well.
Bismillah Khan was a deeply secular person, and as a Muslim, he played the shehnai at the Kashi Vishwanath temple. For him, music transcended religious barriers.
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